Crunchy Oven-Fried Fish

From America's Test Kitchen Season 9: Fish Made Easy

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Why this recipe works:

The golden brown coating and moist, flaky flesh of batter-fried fish come at a price: the oil. Cooks have turned to the oven to avoid the bother of deep-fat frying, but oven-frying often falls short. The coating never gets very crisp and the fish usually ends up overcooked. We aimed to put the… read more

The golden brown coating and moist, flaky flesh of batter-fried fish come at a price: the oil. Cooks have turned to the oven to avoid the bother of deep-fat frying, but oven-frying often falls short. The coating never gets very crisp and the fish usually ends up overcooked. We aimed to put the crunch back into oven-frying. We used thick fillets so that the fish and coating would finish cooking at the same time. Flaky cod and haddock provided the best contrast to the crunchy exterior we envisioned. A conventional bound breading—flour, egg, and fresh bread crumbs—wasn’t as crisp as we wanted, so we toasted the bread crumbs with a little butter. (Precooking the crumbs also ensured we wouldn’t have to overcook the fish to get really crunchy crumbs.) Placing the coated fish on a wire rack while baking allowed air to circulate all around the fish, crisping all sides. We boosted flavor in two ways, adding shallots and parsley to the breading and horseradish, cayenne, and paprika to the egg wash. As a final touch, we whipped up a creamy tartar sauce with mayonnaise, capers, and sweet relish.

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Crunchy Oven-Fried Fish

Oven-fried fish is typically fraught with soggy coatings and dry, overcooked flesh. We set out to bake flaky fillets in an ultracrisp crust.

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Serves 4

To prevent overcooking, buy fish fillets at least 1 inch thick. The bread crumbs can be made up to 3 days in advance, cooled, and stored at room temperature in an airtight container. Serve with Sweet and Tangy Tartar Sauce (see related recipe) or lemon wedges.

Ingredients

Instructions

  1. 1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees. Pulse bread, melted butter, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper in food processor until bread is coarsely ground, eight 1-second pulses (you should have about 3 1/2 cups crumbs). Transfer to rimmed baking sheet and bake until deep golden brown and dry, about 15 minutes, stirring twice during baking time. Cool crumbs to room temperature, about 10 minutes. Transfer crumbs to pie plate; toss with parsley and shallot. Increase oven temperature to 425 degrees.

    2. Place 1/4 cup flour in second pie plate. In third pie plate, whisk eggs, horseradish (if using), mayonnaise, paprika, cayenne pepper (if using), and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper until combined; whisk in remaining 5 tablespoons flour until smooth.

    3. Spray wire rack with nonstick cooking spray and place in rimmed baking sheet. Dry fish thoroughly with paper towels and season with salt and pepper. Dredge 1 fillet in flour; shake off excess. Using hands, coat with egg mixture. Coat all sides of fillet with bread crumb mixture, pressing gently so that thick layer of crumbs adheres to fish. Transfer breaded fish to wire rack. Repeat with remaining 3 fillets.

    4. Bake fish until instant-read thermometer inserted into centers of fillets registers 140 degrees, 18 to 25 minutes. Using thin spatula, transfer fillets to individual plates and serve immediately with lemon wedges.

Technique

Keys to a Crisp Crust

Soft, moist fish needs an extra-thick coating of bread crumbs to add flavor and crunch. Here’s how we lay it on thick:

1. PULSE: Processing fresh crumbs very coarsely maximizes crunch.

2. TOAST: Prebaking buttered crumbs ensures that they are brown and crisp when fish is done.

3. DIP: Thickening batter with flour and mayonnaise prevents toasted crumbs from turning soggy and glues them firmly to fish.

4. COAT: Pressing down gently on crumbs helps to pack thick layer on fish.

5. ELEVATE: Baking fish on a wire rack set inside baking sheet allows air to circulate underneath.

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